WINNETKA – When Grace Welter and her two sons Bill and Tim Welter gather around a picnic table in one of the greenhouses behind Victor Hlavacek Florist, the collective wisdom is significant.
That’s because Grace’s sons are the fourth generation to run the family business originally started by her grandfather and uncle in Wilmette back in 1924. Grace’s father, Victor Hlavacek, later opened the shop in Winnetka on March 1, 1948, and moved his family from Evanston into the white house that sits next to the business at 746 Green Bay Road, where Grace lives now.
“I am so proud of my family and there are so few fourth generation businesses that it is something to be recognized. It’s hard work,” Grace told DailyNorthShore.
Grace and her husband ran the business together while raising their family in Northfield, frequently limiting their social life because everything revolved around the business and the weather.
Running a floral business is hard work mainly because, like a farm it’s a seven-day-a-week job. Someone has to come in and water the plants everyday. “It’s a huge responsibility. You can lose a lot of product and it takes a long time to grow,” Grace explained. Now that Bill and Tim run the business, they switch off coming in on Sundays, and they always keep track of the weather.
So what’s the secret behind a successful business that has been in operation just short of 100 years?
“Quality and service. That is what we’ve gone by and over time, that is why people come here,” Grace said. “Whatever it is, we’ll do it,” Tim added.
Quality means that the Welters don’t just call in orders for holiday plants but visit four different growers to make sure the plants are the quality their customers expect. They also visit wholesale markets on the North Shore and surrounding suburbs daily to handpick fresh flowers for the shop.
“Grandpa always said don’t ever compromise on quality. Always keep your quality and you’ll always keep your customers,” Grace said.
The Welters also have a loyal customer base and choose plants with particular customers’ taste in mind. The shop is known for its custom work. Throughout the seasons, they’ll create custom containers and arrangements that are unique to each customer. Over the years they’ve taken pictures of pots and custom decor for each customer and kept them on file. By building strong relationships with their customers, they tend to know exactly each customer’s unique taste.
“It makes you feel old when you’ve seen (a customer) as a kid picking up a corsage and now you see them in the shop as an adult,” Tim said.
But making personal connections is one way that the Welters set themselves apart. “They have become dear friends as well as customers,” Grace explained.
And there really isn’t anything the Welters won’t do for their customers. During the Christmas season, they decorate homes with custom arrangements, wreaths, garlands and seasonal pots. They’ll even put up a Christmas tree.
While they carry all different kinds of plants, Hlavacek Florist is particularly known for its orchids. They’ve done displays for the orchid show at the Chicago Botanic Garden, as well as an orchid installation around the Chicago Botanic Garden’s architectural model of a greenhouse they plan to build especially for orchids.
Tim and Bill seem to enjoy running the business together, and also appreciate the hard work of Bill’s wife, Pam, who also works at the shop. “It’s nice not to be in an office. You have freedom of movement and work with live products,” Tim said. Before joining the family business Bill worked as a machinist, but he still enjoys working with his hands. “Now instead of getting grease on my hands I get dirt on my hands. It was an easy transition,” Bill said.
Keeping the business in the Hlavacek family means a lot to Grace. “I am extremely grateful and amazed by this,” she said.
Victor Hlavacek Florist is located at 746 Green Bay Road in Winnetka. For more information visit www.victorhlavacekflorist.com.